Global Education for Sustainable Development Initiatives


According to recent figures, world population is estimated to be over 6.6 billion and is expected to increase to a staggering 9 billion by 2050. Some 20 percent of this population is concentrated in Asia. A rapidly growing population and the pressures it exerts on a finite natural resource base has been a cause of serious concern for environmentalists as it stands to threaten the sustainability of the planet as a whole. In addition, consumerism is rising at an alarming rate and leading to unsustainable use of natural resources. Goods are produced, used and thrown at a much faster rate than before, increasing the amount of waste that is not treated properly, particularly in many developing countries.

Though the situation has clearly worsened over time, it is nothing new. In fact, it was under similar circumstances that the global environmental movement was launched in the middle of the last century. Initially, the focus was on protecting the environment. However, protectionism could not last for long as natural resources, being a vital ingredient of development, have to be used by a growing population. The answer lay in ensuring they were not over-exploited and exhausted. This led environmentalist and development experts to adopt the sustainable developmentapproach that advocates development for meeting the needs of the present without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to do the same. With the introduction of the concept of sustainable development and its wide acceptance, the need was felt to further its cause by educating the masses. This paved the way for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), a process that seeks to empower people to assume responsibility for a sustainable future. ESD envisions a world where everyone has the opportunity to benefit from quality education and learn values, behaviour and lifestyles compatible with a sustainable future and positive societal transformation.

Despite being a relatively new, evolving discipline, ESD is increasingly viewed as an optimum approach for promoting sustainable lifestyles. ESD concepts are being integrated into school curricula in many countries. Efforts are also underway to make ESD an acceptable and practical concept for learning at all levels. Consequently, many initiatives have been launched at the global, regional and national level. Some important ones at the global level are highlighted below.

Decade for Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014)
The potential of ESD was first highlighted at the 1992 Earth Summit and featured in Agenda 21 as the tool for promoting sustainable development. Later, at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), ESD was endorsed as an integral part of teaching and learning processes at various levels involving mainstream stakeholders, including the private sector. WSSD also called for strategic actions and planned initiatives under a dedicated ESD decade, lead responsibility for which was given to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) was officially launched by UNESCO on March 1, 2005 in New York, USA.As the concept of sustainable development continues to


evolve, there is a need for more clarity regarding the meaning and goal of ESD. DESD aims to integrate sustainable development values into all aspects of learning to encourage behavioural change that results in a more sustainable, just society for all DESD is based on a global vision poised to have far-reaching implications, touching every aspect of life. It is hoped that DESD outcomes will impact the lives of millions, ushering in new attitudes and values that inspire decisions and actions making sustainable development a more attainable ideal.

Commission on Education and Communication
The Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) is one of the six commissions of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). CEC is a global network of voluntary professional experts in environmental communication and education working actively with government, non-governmental and international organizations, professional networks and academic institutions.

CEC encourages people to assume responsibility in their personal and social behaviour for biodiversity conservation, sustainable development and ecological equity. To further this goal, CEC has launched various initiatives to promote ESD. These include exploring the meaning and process of reorienting Environmental Education towards the sustainable development paradigm through publications and internet debate, regional sessions with government and civil society in Europe, Asia and Latin America, development of national ESD strategies. Further, CEC developed a four-page statement highlighting the importance of DESD that was endorsed by IUCN Council in May 2003 “as an initiative that supports IUCN's mission and raises the profile of its work.” (  CEC also has a working group on ESD that focuses on promoting ESD and taking forward plans for implementation of DESD together with UNESCO. Currently, CEC is working on development of indicators for DESD with UNESCO

World Conservation Learning Network
The World Conservation Learning Network (WCLN) is an IUCN initiative led by the CEC and supported by the IUCN Secretariat. The WCLN is a conservation, environment and sustainable development-focused global network with regional and national chapters. The network builds professional capacity for environmental sustainability through developing and communicating New Learning for Sustainable Solutions by partnering with individual faculties, higher educational institutions, training organizations, academic networks and civil society.

At a global level, ESD is gradually gaining importance. UNESCO is playing an important role in many regions to implement the decade’s commitments. In Europe the concept of ESD is widely accepted and has been made part of the curricula at school and university levels while in both North and South America ESD is not as widely accepted, however the understanding is increasing rapidly and some countries have made individual efforts towards introducing ESD as an essential component of the traditional/formal educational system. ESD initiatives have also been taken at the Asia Pacific and African regional levels. Countries such as India, Australia and Pakistan are actively taking key initiatives to promote ESD in their countries. Some of the important initiatives taken around the world at the regional level are discussed in the paragraphs below.


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